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Politics make room for pageantry

(ran NT LT CT CTI COM CI editions)

Although contentious Southern Baptists looking for controversy will not be disappointed when the Southern Baptist Convention meets Tuesday through Thursday in Houston, pageantry and soul-saving are expected to overshadow politics.

The denomination's first annual meeting in "Bayou City" since 1979 promises to be just as colorful and decidedly less political than the last.

The 1979 meeting, which attracted almost 16,000 registered delegates, marked the beginning of a 12-year battle that set the denomination on a right-ward course. Two years ago, moderates who dissented from the fundamentalist direction essentially gave up the fight and formed their own organization, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

At this meeting, full-scale presentations of drama, music and testimony will be a centerpiece as Baptists stress church-based Christian education programs and mission outreach in this country and overseas.

There will be a 12-foot-tall Bible, a Christian "rap" group and a 1,000-voice choir geared up to sing during a series of special presentations at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Props and casts will be drawn from the vast resources of two Houston megachurches, First Baptist and Second Baptist, which are among the largest congregations in the denomination.

Presiding over business sessions will be the Rev. Ed Young, president of the denomination and pastor of Houston's Second Baptist.

Young, who is expected to be elected for a second one-year term, is pushing for the denomination to focus its vast energies on new frontiers in missions and set aside the internal disagreements that have held the stage for years. As the nation's largest Protestant denomination, the convention should set its sights on "kingdom enterprises," he said.

Young thinks that many Christian churches are poorly prepared for the enormous opportunities in evangelism and ministerial needs that have been identified in Eastern Europe since the collapse of Communism.

The church in general also failed to foresee the growth of indigenous missions around the world and a recent surge of lay Christians seeking short-term assignments. Both, Young said, are significant trends that Baptists should be attuned to as they look toward the 21st century.